WASHINGTON (Aug. 23, 2007) - Today, Judge Emmet Sullivan of the
federal district court in Washington D.C. issued a major ruling
rejecting the last-ditch attempt of Ringling Brothers and Barnum &
Bailey Circus to avoid trial over charges that the circus abuses its
Asian elephants in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
The groundbreaking lawsuit, brought by the American Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, The Animal Protection Institute, the
Animal Welfare Institute, The Fund for Animals, and Tom Rider, a
former employee of Ringling Bros., alleges that the circus violates
the Endangered Species Act by abusively training and disciplining
elephants with sharp implements such as bullhooks, by intensively
confining and chaining the multi-ton animals for prolonged periods,
and by forcibly separating baby elephants from their mothers.
"The ASPCA is delighted with today's ruling, which paves the way for
the real case at hand: whether Ringling Brothers violated the
Endangered Species Act in its treatment of the elephants," stated
ASPCA Senior Vice President Lisa Weisberg.
In its ruling, the Court scolded the circus for "wast[ing] a
considerable amount of time and resources" of the Court and the groups
by engaging in "dilatory" delay tactics over several years. The Court
had previously ruled and today reiterated that the circus had
repeatedly withheld critical evidence, in violation of a Court order.
"After five years of legal wrangling, we look forward to unveiling the
curtain at trial to expose the suffering and death of elephants at the
hands of the so-called 'Greatest Show on Earth,'" said Tracy
Silverman, General Counsel for the Animal Welfare Institute. "These
magnificent animals will finally have their day in Court."
In today's ruling, the Court also recognized the important "public
policy in favor of protecting the animals from unlawful harassment or
harm." The Court further admonished that "promoting the public
interest in the preservation of such species will remain an ever-
present threat to those seeking to unlawfully harm such species."
"Today's strongly worded decision shows that the Court has run out of
patience for Ringling Brothers' stalling ploys," said Michael
Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals. "This trial will come
not a moment too soon, as Ringling's elephants continue to suffer
every day from abusive discipline and prolonged chaining."
The Court also rejected Ringling's attempt to interject baseless
counterclaims against the plaintiffs, and to harass the plaintiffs
with discovery on irrelevant issues. The Court ordered all further
discovery to be completed by the end of the year, and a trial date is
"We're excited to move forward with this case and hope the spotlight
continues to shine on the use of inhumane chains and bullhooks and
Ringling's cruel behind-the-scenes treatment of elephants," said
Nicole Paquette, General Counsel and Director of Legal Affairs at the
Animal Protection Institute.
The plaintiffs are represented by the public interest law firm Meyer
Glitzenstein & Crystal.
-- Witnesses and former circus employees have given sworn testimony to
the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as recently as October 2006, that
behind the scenes at circuses, elephants are kept tightly chained by
one front and hind leg and unable to move freely. In the wild,
elephants travel many miles each day. There are reports of circus
elephants being confined this way up to 20 hours or more each day.
Research shows that this leads to psychological and physical problems
such as arthritis, crippling foot problems, and behavior that is
indicative of high levels of stress.
-- As recently as July 2006, undercover investigators have videotaped
trainers beating elephants, contrary to statements that the animals
are trained exclusively through positive reinforcement. The lawsuit
alleges that trainers use a stick with a sharpened metal hook on the
end (called a "bullhook" or "ankus") to repeatedly beat, pull, push,
torment and threaten elephants.
-- In a January 2005 e-mail, Ringling's own "Animal Behaviorist"
recounted to Ringling's General Manager that she saw an elephant named
Lutzi "dripping blood all over the arena floor during the show from
being hooked," after a handler "hook[ed] Lutzi under the trunk three
times and behind the leg once in an attempt to line her up for the T-
mount." A "T-mount" is a stunt where two elephants and at least one
person stand on the back of a kneeling elephant.
Copies of these documents are available upon request.
-- August 23, 2007 - U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan issues
a ruling rejecting Ringling Brothers' attempts to have the case
dismissed, and permitting the plaintiffs' case to proceed to trial.
-- October 2006 - In response to a court order, Ringling discloses its
own internal veterinary records revealing severe abuse at the hands of
Ringling's elephant handlers.
-- September 2005 - The federal district judge assigned to the case
announces that he will "incarcerat[e]" Ringling's lawyers and
executives if they do not turn over critical veterinary documents that
were required to be produced much earlier in the litigation.
-- February 2003 - A unanimous panel of the federal appeals court in
the District of Columbia finds that the plaintiffs have standing to
sue Ringling Brothers for its mistreatment of Asian elephants.
-- June 2000 - Animal welfare groups file suit against Ringling
Brothers in federal court in the District of Columbia under the
Endangered Species Act to stop Ringling's inhumane and unlawful
mistreatment of highly endangered Asian elephants.
-- July 1999 - Baby elephant Benjamin drowns in a pond when traveling
between Ringling shows; witnesses state that he was evading his
Ringling handler who had chased him with a bullhook.
-- February 1999 - USDA cites Ringling after inspectors observe large
rope burn "lesions" on two baby elephants - Doc and Angelica - caused
by forcibly separating the babies from their mothers well before the
end of their natural weaning period.
-- January 1998 - USDA concludes that baby elephant Kenny dies after
being made to perform by Ringling despite the fact that he was